Deployment Communication: Underlying Processes and Outcomes

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This concurrent embedded mixed methods study explored important aspects of communication occurring between military service members and their intimate partners during a combat deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. Fifty-eight participants (32 military veterans and 26 non-veteran partners) participated in an interview using standardized self-report measures assessing the current level of relationship satisfaction, trauma symptoms of the veteran, and the veterans’ trauma exposure. Participants also participated in a semistructured interview focused on combat deployment and reintegration experiences. The findings suggested that communication between service members and their intimate partners during deployment is important to maintaining an emotional connection, preventing distancing to ease the transition back, obtaining assurance regarding the safety of the deployed partner, and meeting current needs to be emotionally engaged with their partner. Access to the methods of deployment communication, however, was reported to be highly variable within and across deployments. Planned withholding of unpleasant or distressing information from one’s partner appeared to be common and may represent a choice by participants to improve their well-being and outcomes. Recommendations for clinical interventions include preventive programs to help couples discuss their expectations for communication during the deployment. Future research might focus on the development of measures of preferences in deployment communication, as well as the degree of impact of communication on service member duty performance, individual psychological outcomes, and couple-based outcomes.

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